Revealing Portraits of Prisoners in Ukraine and Russia

Natalia, Sentenced for stabbing, Juvenile Prison for Girls, Ukraine 2009
Sailboats and Swans is an intriguing portrait series by Israeli photographer Michal Chelbin that takes a look at inmates serving their time in prison. The series features seven different prisons in Ukraine and Russia that house a variety of lawbreakers. The subjects’ offenses range from theft and assault to murder. What makes the collection of images especially interesting, though, is the unusually innocent and cheery aesthetic found in the correctional facilities, which is hinted at in the project’s title.

Chelbin presents each prisoner in a fairly straightforward portrait and accompanies each person with his/her name, crime, detention center location, and the year she took their image over the six years she’s been working on this series. The viewer is left to react to the entirety of each image and the info provided on their own. There are a number of ways to evaluate the subjects, their crimes, and the environment they are left to live in.

One could focus on the penitentiary itself with floral, homey wallpaper, finding it an odd juxtaposition for the unlawful and violent persons it houses. Others may look at the criminals themselves and recognize their humanity and unfortunate circumstances. In either perspective, there are clearly peculiar contradictions present that lead one to question each individual’s personal story that has led them to their current position.


Nadia, Sentenced for narcotics, Women’s Prison, Ukraine 2010


Stas, Sentenced for murder, Juvenile Prison for Boys, Russia 2009


Vania, Sentenced for violence against women, Ukraine 2010


Ira, Sentenced for theft, Women’s Prison, Ukraine 2010


Lena and Katya, Juvenile Prison for Girls, Ukraine 2009


Sergey, Sentenced for violence against women, Juvenile Prison for Boys, Russia 2009


Masha and Sveta, Juvenile Prison for Girls, Ukraine 2009


Sergey, Sentenced for murder, Juvenile Prison for Boys, Russia 2009


Lena, Sentenced for organizing a rape, Juvenile Prison for Girls, Ukraine 2009


Oleg, sentenced for theft, Juvenile Prison for Boys, Ukraine 2010

Michal Chelbin website
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